Stuart Fenech Horn of Plenty Review

Webmaster Stuart reviews Horn of Plenty and, in effect, the Hunters and Collectors back catalogue.

Author: Stuart Fenech.

Date: 26 February 2011.

Original URL: (Here).

 

Article Text

HORN OF PLENTY, Hunters and Collectors (2008)

The Horn of Plenty box set has a presence that few box sets can match. Hardened cardboard in a wood grain appearance, it has eight drawers with each disc in a neat cardboard case. A book and numbered certificate also sit inside, with stunning enduring artwork and a biography of an era spanning from a gig in Melbourne in 1981 to a gig in Melbourne in 1998.

A total of 16 discs find their way into the collection. The nine studio albums on CD, one collection of EPs on CD, two live CD’s, two CD’s of rarities, two live gigs on one DVD and a collection of video clips on DVD. With the exception of some single edits, a few live b-sides and a couple of remixes, this is everything Hunters and Collectors released.

The contents of 13 of the 14 CD’s remain available new in remastered form through Liberation Records. The mixing, in terms of sound and loudness, is almost identical to that of these remasters released from 2003 to 2007. ReplayGain loudness figures range from -7.29 dB (Living in Large Rooms CD1) to -10.55dB (self titled album), which is louder than most original releases but inoffensive due to a lack of dynamic range in the original recordings.

 

Hunters & Collectors CD (1982)

Taking their name from a track on Can’s 1975 album Landed, this was Hunters and Collectors debut album. Heavier and more confronting than anything Can ever made, apparent influences also included Talking Heads and Australian pub rock.

The first ‘hit’, Talking to a Stranger, was lifted from this album, along with the classic Run Run Run, all 9 minutes and 12 seconds of it. Lyrically vague with long tracks, this was the Hunters in their art rock phase. Live concerts were intense and chaotic and the challenges are apparent in getting a complex live sound to work in a studio in tracks like Skin of Our Teeth.

The self titled album was originally a double LP due to it’s 51 minute length. When released on CD, the World of Stone EP was included. In the box set, World of Stone has been placed in the Cargo Cult EP collection, leaving the album back in it’s original form.

 

The Fireman’s Curse CD (1983)

The Fireman’s Curse was the Hunters difficult second album, created with a lack of ideas while internally disintegrating over personal and artistic differences. It is the album hardest to love in the back catalogue and the one most commonly panned by critics.

Two singles, Judas Sheep and Sway, were released from the album and enjoyed some level of success in New Zealand. The twisted video to Judas Sheep, largely involving a masked man chasing people with a meat cleaver, perhaps some insight into the period.

Do not let this put you off as The Fireman’s Curse is not without it’s fans. It is lyrically curious and the prominent dark bass guitar work is remarkably enjoyable. Beyond the singles, the murky Curse draws you in to it’s madness. If the band did not loathe the whole era so strongly, Sway deserves to be on a best of compilation.

 

The Jaws of Life CD (1984)

The Hunters came close to disintegrating following The Fireman’s Curse, but instead replaced a number of members and pushed forward into brave new territory. Drawing inspiration from the likes of X and Australian themes,  The Jaws of Life heralded an angrier, more focused Hunters and Collectors.

Jaws is an ultimate driving album, with distance and travel featuring through tracks like opening 42 Wheels and closer Little Chalkie. It’s unabashedly masculine in nature, from sexual greed in I Couldn’t Give It To You to excessive drinking in Carry Me to masturbation in the single The Slab.

Driven by John Archer’s bass and Doug Falconer’s drumming and complimented by the prominent horns of Jack Howard, Michael Waters and Jeremy Smith, this was the start of the sound that is most associated with the Hunters. Mark’s vocals are rough but part of the charm.

The Payload EP, included with most Jaws of Life CD’s, has been moved to the Cargo Cult CD for the box set.

 

Human Frailty CD (1986)

A concerted dive in the mainstream direction, Human Frailty saw Hunters and Collectors do the almost unthinkable and become a mainstream band capable of being played on mainstream commercial radio. The Hunters all of a sudden became mainstays of Australian commercial radio with hits like Say Goodbye (“you don’t make me feel like I’m a woman anymore”) and classic Throw Your Arms Around Me.

The emphasis remains on bass and drum, but the edges are smoothed and Mark’s vocals far less offensive. The themes are focused on relationships from the male perspective. The album is packed full of classics, from the pop single Everything’s on Fire to the epic 6 minute 42 second closer This Morning.

The track listing on the box set version is the same as later CD releases but without the Living Daylight EP, which has been moved to the Cargo Cult EP CD.

 

What’s A Few Men? CD (1987)

Taking it’s name from Albert Facey’s memoir A Fortunate Life, What’s A Few Men? blends the relationship and Australian themes of the previous two albums in an accessible pop rock album. Archer’s bass moves back in the mix while Falconer’s prominent drumming is reminiscent of similar era albums like Midnight Oil’s Diesel and Dust.

The belting ode to suburbia, Do You See What I See?, is the best known album track. The relatively vague Back on the Breadline was a minor international hit. Mark is back on the town for the single Still Hanging ‘Round and reminiscing over a childhood across regional Victoria in Under the Sun.

What’s a Few Men? had some track changes and was remixed with heavier guitars and effects for the US aimed album Fate. As part of the Liberation Records remasters, a vigorous debate resulted in the 2003 reissuing of What’s A Few Men?, with the four tracks on the end previously only having been on Fate. This remastered CD, which is the same as the one in stores, is the only way to get all tracks from both the What’s a Few Men? and Fate albums.

 

Ghost Nation CD (1989)

A big international record deal under their belt with Atlantic, Ghost Nation was the last big attempt by the Hunters to take over the world. A commercial pop rock album that won Robert Miles an ARIA for artwork, it was the first to include guitarist Barry Palmer as a formal member.

When the River Runs Dry, a song that gets away with mocking large parts of the Hunters own audience, was a minor international hit. The radio airplay continued to flow with the social commentary of Turn a Blind Eye and The Way You Live. Ghost Nation introduced a new subtle, atmospheric pop approach to the Hunters back catalogue.

Ghost Nation explores broader social themes along with ongoing delving into human relationships. The themes are less linked to Australia and more universal, perhaps in reflection of the aims of the album at the time.

 

Cut CD (1992)

Internal band politics were thrown all over the place as Don Genham, famed US record producer of the likes of R.E.M. and John Mellencamp, was brought in to work on the Cut album. Mixed feelings remain in the band to this day over the album, which brought Mark’s vocals strongly to to forefront and took the band on a perhaps unplanned path.

Yet the album is strong from start to finish. A massive six singles reached the Australian charts – Holy Grail, True Tears of Joy, Where Do You Go?, Head Above Water, We the People and Imaginary Girl. Stunningly beautiful tracks like Edge of Nowhere, about the passing away of Mark’s running partner, covered new ground for the band. The only potential gripe is that harder rockers and more subtle number too interspersed in the track listing order.

Unfairly, Cut barely got noticed outside of Australia. To this day, despite being drunkenly sung at disturbing numbers of sporting events and pubs late at night, the medieval inspired Holy Grail is barely recognised overseas.

 

Demon Flower CD (1994)

The Demon Flower album was a reflection on rejection of the recording process of the Cut album, dismissal of taking over the world and a desire to rock. It’s Palmer’s time to shine, with the electric guitars brought to the front. After 13 years as a band, the Hunters managed to reinvent themselves one last time.

The Jaws of Life was the last time the Hunters created an album this raw and many fans rank Demon Flower among their favourite. The themes show a band ageing in it’s approach and focus, with Back in the Hole covering Victorian’s prison privatisation, Betrayer a ‘done it all before’ reflection on relationships and Newborn on Mark’s recent fatherhood.

Due to what was now a sizable support base, Demon Flower on the week of release was the Hunters highest charting album in Australia. The single Easy managed to notch up what would sadly be the Hunters last hit single in Australia.

 

Juggernaut CD (1998)

Having decided to call the band quits, the Hunters decided to record one last studio album rather than take the easy option with a ‘best of’. The result was Juggernaut, an underrated album that went largely unnoticed by the sizable crowds that come out to see the band on their Say Goodbye tour.

The album shows the band uncertain of the direction to take, with the most noticeable changes being a step in the Crowded House pop direction and loss of the more inaccessible elements of Demon Flower. True Believers was a loved ode to fans, Wasted in the Sun an angry song about hedonism and single Suit Your Style, written with Paul Kelly, a pop hit that never was on friendship.

Few songs from Juggernaut were played live, which contrasts strongly with previous albums where most songs were played at one point or another. This, combined with the unjustifiable lack of radio airplay, means Juggernaut contains many gems yet to be discovered.

 

Mutations (2005)

Mutations is a collection of b-sides from the Hunters long career, many of which had never previously been released on CD. The format of individual songs rather than remixes and live tracks, was heavily influenced by fan preferences. As a result, the only b-side missing is John Riley, which was not a full band recording.

Mutations is as broad and mixed up as could be expected of a band that moved through many styles. Jaws of Life outtakes Unbeliever and Follow Me sit with Demon Flower electric guitar experimentation Yes Man and Too Good Looking Too Lose, who sit with ‘too pop for normal albums’ recordings including Pocket, Matter of Time and The Price of Freedom.

For the uninitiated, Mutations makes strange listening. For the fan with the standard albums, this is one of the greatest things that could be found – an entire album of unheard material. There are few things cooler than finding tracks from the era of your favourite album that are every bit as good as the album.

 

Cargo Cult (3 X EP) CD (2008)

Cargo Cult is a compilation of the three officially released Hunters ep’s – World of Stone (1982), Payload (1982) and Living Daylight (1987). On CD, these EP’s are normally attached to standard studio albums, but for Horn of Plenty they are provided separately.

As the first Hunters release, the World of Stone EP makes essential listening to hear the formation of a great band. The Payload EP, created between the self titled album and The Fireman’s Curse, contains Lumps of Lead and obscure classic Towtruck. Following Human Frailty, the Living Daylight EP is in a completely different style to the first two EPs and contains the minor hit Inside A Fireball, which was written about protests in Broken Hill.

There is a track listing glitch where Run Run Run from the self titled album is the first track, with Watcher and Loinclothing combined as a track. No song is missing as a result of this error. I would have liked to also see the promo only Raw Material EP or Live Demons in Amsterdam EP included on this CD, but unfortunately this was not to happen.

 

Spare Parts CD (2008)

Spare Parts is a compilation CD created specially for Horn of Plenty, full of obscure bits and pieces from the Hunters and Collectors back catalogue. Around half of the material was previously unreleased and none of the material can be found elsewhere in the box set.

The original 1984 single version of Throw Your Arms Around Me is essential for fans of Jaws of Life. The remixes of Do You See What I See? and Talking to a Stranger show an unusual approach to the Hunters music.

The remaining 11 tracks are live recordings. A blistering version of Faraway Man has been grabbed from the US promo only Raw Material EP. Six brilliant tracks feature from the live 1990 AusMusic concert, including a rare live recording of the track Ghost Nation. The important finale is the first and only officially released early Hunters recordings in the form of four tracks from their first ever gig.

 

Living in Large Rooms and Lounges 2CD (1995)

The two CD release Living in Large Rooms and Lounges is a comprehensive overview of the Hunters live in the Demon Flower era. The Live at the Continental CD comprises of rarer acoustic recordings and the Live at the Pubs CD conventional electric recordings.

The acoustic CD contains a rare recording of the John Hiatt track The Most Unoriginal Sin. The live recording of Little Chalkie on the electronic CD is brilliant as it is brutal.

Easy, Say Goodbye and Holy Grail feature on both CD’s, which demonstrates them well in both formats, but does limit the variety on the albums.

 

Under One Roof (1998) & The Way To Go Out (1985) DVD

Combined on one DVD for Horn of Plenty, The Way to Go Out and Under One Roof show the Hunters at significantly different stages in their career. Together, they are a good document of Hunters live, only missing out on the early art rock phase where no official live video was made.

The Way To Go Out followed the release of the Jaws of Life, with a new form of band and new drum and bass dominated sound. It is raw, relatively grainy, and for the serious fan. Compared to the CD release, which is not included in the box set, the stereo only DVD includes The Unbeliever but leaves out Follow Me No More.

Under One Roof is an entirely more accessible affair recorded at Sydney’s Coogee Bay Hotel during the Say Goodbye tour. It contains all of the hits, along with some treats for fans, and is remixed in Dolby Surround Sound 5.1. Compared to the CD release, which is not included in the box set, the DVD adds an excellent recording of Wasted in the Sun.

 

Natural Selection DVD (2003)

The Natural Selection releases in 2003 were ‘best of’ compilations to cover the entire career of Hunters and Collectors. Until that point, Collected Works was available but did not cover the last three studio albums and Under One Roof was functioning as a live ‘best of’.

The DVD version of Natural Selection was an opportunity to collate Hunters promotional video clips. It is one of the most complete collections made for a band, including every single one of the 25 original official video clips. From the Richard Lowenstein directed madness of Talking to a Stranger to the pine forests of True Tears of Joy, this is one superb compilation.

Note that the Natural Selection DVD in Horn of Plenty is better than the one in stores. It has remastered audio and sounds substantially and noticeably better than the stand alone DVD available in stores.

 

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